Ryan McFadyen's football career started in July. He has already undergone a position change, switching to tight end Sept. 7 after two months at defensive end, and the fifth-year senior has, at most, 10 games left before he'll hang up his football helmet.

And then he'll trade them for a lacrosse helmet and a long pole.

"Why not?" McFadyen said of his decision to start playing football after his undergraduate years. "With Duke Football getting [David] Cutcliffe as the new coach and me having the opportunity to come back and do a fifth year and start graduate school, I thought, 'Why not mix things up a little bit?' I'd like to play lacrosse, obviously, but I'd like to try football as well."

And so McFadyen isn't just in his first year in the Liberal Studies program. It's also his first year on the gridiron, and despite his athleticism and body frame-at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, he's built like a football player-it showed, at least initially.

A drill as routine as doing swim moves through dummies can be difficult when you've never set foot on a football field before, even if you've been playing lacrosse for years.

"I was lining up in a sprinter's stance, and I was too far forward, and I couldn't get the concept of stepping with the same hand and the same foot," McFadyen said. "Literally, I looked like a robot. I was all awkward and falling over, and the guys were grabbing my arms and legs and moving them."

But after two months of practice, McFadyen has picked up the basics. He plays on the punt return, kickoff return, field goal and PAT units, enabling him to contribute to the team despite his lack of experience distinguishing a draw from a sweep from a passing play.

And that, more than anything else, was the reason behind his recent position change. Without ever having played football before, McFadyen had a hard time reading offenses and responding appropriately. Whereas other Duke defensive linemen have had years of practice chasing down opposing players, McFadyen had none.

Now, as a tight end, he can focus more on his own role, whether that's blocking or running routes. And although he lines up on the other side of the ball, his time at defensive end wasn't a waste by any means, McFadyen said.

"I spent the last two months getting down the defensive concepts and just learning things that most guys pick up in high school," McFadyen said. "I never had an opportunity for that.... Now that I have the background in football that I got through camp in the first couple of weeks of playing, it'll be easier to pick this up."

And he'll undoubtedly do it with his lacrosse coach looking on.

"I do believe that he's earned his way," said John Danowski, who has attended every game this season. "He's allowing other guys to rest, maybe a key offensive or defensive player that would have to play those spots. So he's contributing to the team, he's making plays and he's learning and getting better."

Danowski, a self-proclaimed "football guy," would know.

His father, Ed Danowski, was a quarterback for the New York Giants for eight years and was later the head coach at Fordham. John Danowski coached high school and college football, and he even played quarterback at Rutgers when he was one of the top lacrosse players in school history.

But Danowski quit the football team after his junior year after he wasn't named the starter, a decision he still considers "one of my biggest regrets of my life." And it's a major reason why McFadyen wanted to try out for football.

"You get to a certain point in your life, and you observe a lot and you see a lot," Danowski said. "As an educator or as a parent, you want to say to your children or your students, 'Go out and experience as much as life has to offer.' And what a great experience this is for him. And again, have no regrets. Don't look back."

McFadyen's doing just that, and others are noticing.

"I don't think a lot of people gave him credit," said lacrosse defenseman Jay Jennison, McFadyen's teammate for five years. "They weren't really sure what to expect, and people are kind of impressed with the work he's put in. He's a physical talent, and [they're impressed with] how well he's catching up on the game."

But it would be impossible to be completely at ease just two months into playing a new sport. McFadyen said he constantly second-guesses himself playing football, a stark contrast to the comfort he feels playing lacrosse.

That familiarity will pay off in the spring, however, when McFadyen has to readjust to playing his natural sport after missing fall workouts.

"He's probably going to be in better shape being over there right now in the season instead of being here for the offseason," attackman Chris Loftus said. "It'll actually prepare him better. Maybe his stick skills will be a little rusty, but he'll pick those up right away."

After all, as Danowski noted, that's how it used to be. Two-sport athletes used to be commonplace. Now, they're rare-and McFadyen may be one of a kind.

Consider the circumstances. Not only does he not have football experience, but McFadyen was suspended from the University in March 2006 for a graphic e-mail he wrote to the Blue Devils after the off-campus party cited in the lacrosse case. McFadyen was reinstated in June after Duke found he did not break any school policies, but his reinstatement did little to mollify the rampant criticism he faced.

"He was vilified here a couple of years ago," Danowski said. "He loves Duke. He gets it. He could've left here and packed his bags in May with his 3.4 GPA and left, and [instead he] decides he's going to go to graduate school, he's going to represent the University in two sports and he is going to leave a legacy here of excellence."

Given Duke's football progress this year, McFadyen seems well on his way. And nine-or, Duke hopes, 10-games from now, McFadyen will return to cementing the other aspect of his legacy, working to secure the school's first national championship in lacrosse.

"What Ryan is doing is an absolutely amazing story. It might be one of the greatest stories that I've ever witnessed as a coach," Danowski said. "This really sounds sappy, but he represents what this place is about. Kids here walk around and they're excellent in all sorts of areas that they don't even know what they're excellent in, and they will be if they give it a shot. And I think he's a testament to that."